HARDIN — In a heated prelude to Saturday afternoon's Fancy Farm political picnic, Republican gubernatorial nominee Matt Bevin accused Democrats of creating a "sexual harassment mess" in the state legislature.
Bevin, speaking at a Republican gathering Friday night, also sharply criticized the use of taxpayers' dollars to put a legal end to the scandal, even though some Republican legislative leaders joined Democrats in signing off on the payment of $400,000 by the Kentucky General Assembly to three women to settle their lawsuits.
At a GOP breakfast in Graves County Saturday morning, Bevin hinted that he may try to force the settlement as a key issue in his campaign.
"If you're not aware of this, you will become aware of it," Bevin told the crowd.
After Bevin had railed against the "garbage" coming out of Frankfort, there was some awkwardness as Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, took the microphone to defend signing off on the settlement.
Stivers, putting the blame squarely on House Democrats, told the crowd "we had to settle that or expose ourselves to seven-figure settlements."
Bevin said House Majority Caucus Chairwoman Sannie Overly, the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor on a gubernatorial ticket with Attorney General Jack Conway, should explain why she asked the court to keep her deposition in the case out of the public record.
He also said reporters should find out what Overly had told the two female legislative staffers who accused a former Western Kentucky lawmaker of sexual harassment.
Overly declined to comment when reporters tried to ask her about Bevin's comments after Saturday morning's Graves County Democratic breakfast at Mayfield High School.
Conway disputed Bevin's assertions about the cause of the scandal and said he has never discussed it with Overly.
Conway said he has "100 percent confidence" in Overly and that the scandal was the legislature's problem. He said it shouldn't be blamed on any one political party, though sexual harassment and hostile workplace lawsuits were filed against two Democratic lawmakers.
Speaking Friday night at Ken Lake State Park at the 10th annual "Night Before Fancy Farm" dinner, Bevin said as governor he would not tolerate anyone in state government, regardless of their political party affiliation, who allegedly behaved as some lawmakers did and would assist the victims in stopping such behavior.
He said the alleged activities of lawmakers "shouldn't happen in eighth-grade locker rooms" and said it was unfortunate that taxpayers "are paying to hide their sins."
Bevin said he could have used stronger language in describing the scandal but children were at the Ken Lake GOP dinner.
So far, no details of the settlement have been filed in Franklin Circuit Court, where lawsuits were filed nearly two years ago in relationship to the scandal.
Thomas Clay, the Louisville attorney for the three legislative staffers, recently said the legislature has agreed to pay $400,000 to settle the two suits.
In one of the suits, Yolanda Costner and Cassaundra Cooper said former state Rep. John Arnold, D-Sturgis, sexually harassed them at the Capitol. Arnold denied wrongdoing but resigned.
The Legislative Ethics Commission last year found Arnold guilty of three counts of inappropriate conduct related to the women's complaints, issuing a $1,000 fine and a public reprimand for each count. Arnold appealed that finding to Franklin Circuit Court.
In the other lawsuit, LRC employee Nicole Cusic alleged she was moved to an inferior job after she complained that Rep. Will Coursey, D-Symsonia, had sexually harassed female legislative staffers.
Coursey denied the claim. He still sits in the House.
Reminded that some Republican legislative leaders signed off on the $400,000 settlement, Bevin said he could understand the settlement from a financial viewpoint but it was not right for taxpayers to foot the bill.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, has said at least 11 of the 16 legislative leaders signed off on the settlement and that he did so after counsel had advised that the cost of defending the lawsuits might be greater than the cost of settlement.
There are eight Democratic and eight Republican legislative leaders in the legislature.